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Quiet Gaming Cases, Part 1: Antec, Azza, And Cooler Master

Creating A Quiet Case: More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

Much of the noise that emanates from a modern gaming PC is attributable to high-end graphics cards. Modern GPUs employ two types of coolers: centrifugal and axial. Centrifugal coolers, also known as blowers, use an impeller to push air out through an exhaust at the back of the card. Meanwhile, axial-flow fans have blades that blow directly toward the card, where it exits around the sides of the heat sink and into the case itself.

If all of that is too much for you, just know that both solutions have their advantages and downsides. Blowers are noisy, and they aren't as effective as axial coolers. Axial fans tend to operate more quietly, but pollute the inside of your chassis with their heated air.

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Single-radial GPU Cooler

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Triple-axial GPU Cooler

As an overclocker, I’m dubious of graphics cards with axial coolers, since they typically have a really bad effect on the ambient temperature of most enclosures. You never want a high-end graphics card to sabotage your CPU overclock, after all.

Yes, you can use water cooling to make the whole axial versus centrifugal debate a moot point. But now you're talking about spending more money, too. There's another way to approach this conundrum, and it often gets overlooked: simply choose a better case.

We expect most cases to have vents for warm air, but we expect quiet enclosures not to have them on their side panels, right next to a noisy graphics card. The concept here is simple: reflected noise is usually less obtrusive than direct noise, and noise-dampening materials help enhance this effect. They also help minimize panel vibration and alter resonant frequencies, often to the point where they're no longer noticed. Those are the features we want to see from a gaming-oriented chassis that its vendor considers quiet.

The table below lists the dimensions, optional cooling capacity, maximum number of drives, and sound-dampening materials for the three cases we're testing today. In the days that follow, we'll be going in-depth on six more enclosures before figuring out which one does its job the best.

Antec P280Azza Silentium 920Cooler Master Silencio 650
Dimensions
Height20.6"18.2"18.8"
Width9.1"8.8"8.2"
Depth22.3"20.5"21.0"
Space Above Motherboard1.3"0.8"1.3"
Card Length13.8"12.3"11.5" - 17.0"**
Weight21.7 Pounds15.8 Pounds23.0 Pounds
Cooling
Front Fans (alternatives)2 x 120 mm (None)1 x 120 mm (None)2 x 120 mm (1 x 140 mm)
Rear Fans (alternatives)1 x 120 mm (None)1 x 120 mm (None)1 x 120 mm (None)
Top Fans (alternatives)2 x 120 mm (None)None (None)None (1 x 140/120 mm)
Left Side (alternatives)None (None)None (None)None (None)
Right Side (alternatives)None (None)None (None)None (None)
Drive Bays
5.25" ExternalThreeFourThree
3.5" ExternalNoneOneNone
3.5" InternalSixFiveSeven
2.5" InternalSix* +2Five*One***
Card SlotsNineSevenSeven
Noise Dampening
SidesPolycarbonateFoamFoam
TopNoneFoamFoam
FrontFoamClothCast Aluminum
Price$120 $80 $160
*Shared on 3.5" tray**Slots 1-6 w/o Center Cage***By Adapter on 3.5" External Backplane

Most of the common noise-reducing techniques can be found across the three samples in today’s test, including thicker material to block the noise (Cooler Master’s cast drive door), reflection-weakening foam (Azza’s top and side panels), and vibration-dampening weighted film (Antec’s polycarbonate layer). Before we test the effectiveness of these techniques, we’d first like to show you a few of the features that we think make each of these cases a viable contender in our competition.